The Real Diversity Crisis in Colorado Higher Education

Before Brad Jones earned notoriety for his role in the scandal over coordination between his partisan Republican website and state legislative employees, he cut his teeth as the head of the University of Colorado College Republicans.  Back then, his group’s signature stunt was the “affirmative action bake sale,” where goods are offered for sale at different prices to different racial/ethnic groups in a supposed parody of affirmative action policies. 

The “bake sale” stunt, which was repeated again at CU earlier this month, is a preview of the next inflammatory race-based election year fake crisis to be promoted by the Republicans:  so-called discrimination against white men, to be remedied by an affirmative action ban that California businessman Ward Connerly is considering sponsoring for the Colorado ballot in 2008.

The Republicans’ “bake sale” demonstrations not only misrepresent affirmative action as it is (barely) practiced in Colorado, they divert attention from the real affirmative action crisis in the University of Colorado system: the shocking lack of students of color.First, the truth about affirmative action.  The Diversity and Equity Plan at CU-Boulder is pretty toothless.  One of its core principles is that “Quotas, ‘set asides’ and/or discriminatory practices must not be included in or inferred from campus diversity plans.”  Another is that diversity “aspirations” must be “ambitious” but also “realistic and attainable” — code talk for settling for a disproportionately white student body. 

Some of the toothlessness of the CU plan is not the university’s fault; robust versions of affirmative action have been rendered extinct by conservative federal courts over the years.  Still, the result of inaction on diversity is evident in the lack of students of color on the Boulder campus:  CU-Boulder reports that 15% of its Colorado resident bachelor degree recipients in 2005 were students of color, compared to a Colorado high school graduate population in the relevant year (2000) that contained 21.7% students of color.  

When you factor in students from out of state, the picture becomes even more grim:  students of color made up only 8% of freshmen from out of state entering school in 2005, when 38% of the total entering class was from out of state.  It should be noted that the 2005 freshman class had an abnormally low percentage of out of state students; such students normally comprise 42 – 45% of the entering class.

The “bake sale” protesters, and the Republicans who hope Ward Connerly’s initiative will bring conservative voters to the polls in a presidential election year, are trying to make the case that there is too much racial/ethnic diversity in the University of Colorado student body.  The facts show quite the opposite.  It’s time for the media who routinely cover the College Republicans’ stunts — and the politicians who claim to have the best interests of Colorado’s communities of color at heart — to start drawing attention to the real diversity crisis in our state’s higher education system.

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About the Author

Luis Toro

is a veteran Colorado lawyer and ethics rabble-rouser who’s director of Colorado Ethics Watch. His email is

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